Of all the evidences of being in the Last Times, there is one sign that is most disturbing of all. The judgments of the last seven years seem minor in comparison to the judgment from this sign. As Jesus warned us, we are not to fear those who can take the life of our body; we are to fear the one Who after death can cast body and soul into hell (Matthew 10:28). The Lord Jesus warned of many in the Last Days who will be without question in the worst condition a person can be. Jesus warned of many who will think they are Christians but are not. They are deceived. The Bible warns that spiritually within the church, the sign of the Last Days will be a Great Apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Apostasy is when a person denies the truth and turns from it. It is an abandonment or renouncement of a belief. Just as the Bible prophesied, so we are living in the days of the Great Apostasy in the church that not only exists, but is growing.
One of the most familiar nursery rhymes is Humpty Dumpty. Humpty Dumpty is a great egg sitting on a wall. They rhyme goes like this:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
In the nursery rhyme, the consequences of the fall are final and irreversible. No one or nothing could put Humpty together again. It was such a great fall.
It will be the same in the Apostasy, the Great Fall of the church. The Fall of the church from the truth of Christ will be into eternal hell. Nothing described in the terrifying events of the Great Tribulation can compare to the horror of being in the lake of fire forever with no escape, no second chance, no exit. Death is no escape. It is just the entrance into the eternal condition of being with God or forever separated from Him in judgment.
While in the Bible the Apostasy seems like a sudden change in which the church embraces the false, the truth is it is just another of many small steps. Even in the first century there were those preaching a false Jesus and a false Gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). The Apostle Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus that from among themselves would come those who would lead others away from the truth (Acts 20:28-30). The book of Jude was written to warn Christians of the dangers to the church from within. He wrote by the Holy Spirit in Jude 1:3-4, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
The Bible teaches that the Great Apostasy will lead to a worldwide religious deception that is Satanic (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10). But while the deception is Satanic it is allowed and even purposed by God as it will reveal the true hearts of people and take away all allusions of being in the name of the Lord Jesus as it will blaspheme that name (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). But while embracing the deception is a clear step, it has been preceded by people in churches who do not love the truth of God and do not want their lives governed by the Lord Jesus through His Word. As 2 Thessalonians 2:12 says the cause of falling for the deception was their refusal to submit to the truth, “… who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” As the Apostle Paul warned Timothy of the solemn charge to preach the Word of God in the Last Days, people will reject sound preaching and teaching. He said in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” But while they reject the truth of the Bible, people will still think of themselves as Christians. They will be as the Apostle Paul described, appearing to be spiritual, “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5) They seem to even enjoy Bible studies and spiritual learning, but they are never changed. It describes them in 2 Timothy 3:7, “always learning and never able to arrive at knowledge of the truth.” In other words, the truth of the Bible never changes their lives because they never live in true submission to it.
While the Great Apostasy is true of the Last Days, it is based on the same strategy of Satan used in the first great deception of Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden. The progression to deception is easy to see in the garden and in the history of the church in this last generation. As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.” The deception begins always by separating us from the revealed truth of God through His Word. As the deception with Eve began, Satan said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” Satan introduced doubt of the clarity, meaning, and certainty of God’s Word. Satan summarized as if what was said gave them freedom to eat of any tree they wanted. By Satan’s word, the Word of God had no authority over their behavior. They were not to live in submission to the Word of God, the Word of God was to be in submission to them.
As we think about the truth and role of the Word of God in our lives, we realize that we know nothing about God apart from His revelation through His Word. We understand from creation that God is, and is worthy of thanks and praise as our Creator and sustainer of life (Romans 1:19-20). We have a moral conscience that leads us to know there is a right and a wrong. But we have no way of knowing God apart from His revealing Himself through His Word. We also have no way of knowing who we are as mankind apart from the Word of God. We have no understanding of our origins, our purpose in life, and what follows death apart from the Word of God. We have no way of establishing absolutes in moral and spiritual behavior apart from the Word of God. As the Apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:19, the Word of God is the only light we have shining in this morally and spiritually dark world.
Thus to deceive us, Satan must first separate us from the truth, clarity, and authority of the Word of God. Satan was causing Eve to be the authority of what God really said. He was leading Eve, and Adam with her, to be separated from living under God’s authority. We see this massively at work in the church today. There is a widespread rejection of the Bible as the true and authoritative Word of God in many, if not most churches today. The Bible is often seen as some combination of the Word of God and the word of man. It is left to individuals to decide what part of the Bible, if any, is the authoritative Word of God for them and what part is the word of imperfect man. Some, through people like N. T. Wright, believe none of the Bible is authoritative. It only shows us that God will raise up spokesmen for Himself in every generation who will speak to that generation. One popular Pastor in Atlanta has all but eliminated the Old Testament as having any relevance for us today.
The second step of deception is deception as to the very nature and character of God. After Eve says that God warned them they would die if they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, Satan went to step two of deception, changing the very character of God and the truth of judgment. He said to Eve, recorded in Genesis 3:4-5, “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Eve was told she had no need to live in fear of God or His judgment. Satan denied the essential goodness of God. Satan made it seem God’s desire was selfish by keeping them from being at the level of God. God was selfish of His own position and Satan gave the lie that you can be god without God. Satan implied God was powerless from keeping Adam and Eve from reaching His level. Satan said that with the knowledge gained from eating the forbidden fruit they could decide for themselves what is right or wrong. Satan urged Eve to make choices by the desires of her appetites.
As we bring this lie of Satan about the nature of God and judgment to the 21st century, we see how it is so clearly the foundation of the Great Apostasy. In Apostasy, the root character of God is not holiness, but love. It is a love that is indulgent and tolerant of man’s choices. It is a love that no longer speaks of sins but only mistakes. It is a character of God without wrath. In fact, the truth of the wrath of God is most clearly and loudly rejected. To those under deception, a God of love would not subject people to a judgment of bearing the eternal wrath of God against sin.
It is in the study of the wrath of God that the deception gets most clever. To the deceived, the wrath of God rests not on sinners, but on sin. To them, God is angry and upset at sin, which is why Jesus went to the cross: to show how upset God is with sin. But to them the wrath of God rests on sin not sinners. It is as if God is only upset with the results of sin not the cause which lies in the sinful choices of people. Yet, “The soul that sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 28:20) To die is to be separated from God, who is life. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they died. They were separated from a life-giving relationship with God. That is spiritual death. But the Bible warns of eternal death. Eternal death is to die in your sins and to be forever separated from God in judgment (Revelation 21:8). The Deception denies the truth of Ephesians 5:6, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Of course God hates sin, but an anger that rests only on the results of sin and not on the cause would be both unwise and lack justice. God created man accountable for his sins, and God has set a day of judgment for those sins. He has handed judgment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said of this in John 5:25-29, “ Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
Wrath is an essential part of God’s holiness and commitment to justice. Without wrath there is no real love, for a love that is not aroused by unjust treatment of others is no real love. Without wrath that brings the consequences of judgment to people who commit sinful actions, there is no real justice. The wrath of God rests not only on the results of sin, it rests importantly on the cause of sin, people who commit sinful actions. As a society, we hate murder, but what we send to prison is not murder, but murderers.
The Great Deception not only denies the holiness of God, but it also denies the work of Jesus on the cross. The Bible gives us a great tension: if the soul that sins must die, what hope do we have, as we all have sinned? If sin separates us from God, how can we have peace with God? If death leads to eternity, what can ever save us from forever being separated from God? This is the major tension and question of the Bible. It is the major focus of the book of Romans. How can we who are sinners, rightly deserving the judgement of God for our sin, ever reach a state of righteousness necessary to be at peace with God? The tension is resolved in the Bible through the atonement the Lord Jesus Christ provided on the cross. But if we don’t understand the holiness of God and the wrath of God that rests on those who sin, we will never understand the cross.
In God’s system of justice, He has allowed for a substitute to take the judgment we deserve. Often, the Bible uses financial accounting terms to describe sin and judgment. It uses the concept of the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). Sin causes a debt that must be paid to be forgiven. The Bible says the only way sin can be atoned is by blood, the giving of a life. Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” As the Bible says in the New Testament in Hebrews 9:22, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In the Law of God, it was taught from the beginning that we could bring a substitute for ourselves in the judgment of sin by offering the blood of a perfect animal. This was just a sign that one day God would provide the perfect atonement by the shedding of the blood of His Son on the cross.
There are many things happening at the cross of Jesus, but the most important is that the cross was the judicial judgment of God placed upon Jesus for our sins. On the cross, the judicial wrath of God on sinners was satisfied. Isaiah 53 gives us so many truths about the cross. It says in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” In clarity, Isaiah says by the Holy Spirit, the cross was the judicial action of God the Father as He laid on Jesus the judicial judgment and wrath for our sin. Isaiah 53:10-11 states, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” Did you see the accounting term? Because of what Jesus did on the cross, those who trust in Him will be accounted righteous. Before a holy God Whose wrath rests on sinners, that wrath has been satisfied by Jesus. For Jesus to be able to be a substitute, He had to be perfect, without sin. No one else could ever pay our sins because we have all sinned. Only Jesus could do it. As the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The great deception in the Garden led Eve and Adam to actions, the third step in deception. No longer directed by the Word of God, they were then directed by their own appetites and judgments. As it says in Genesis 3:6, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” So we see today, people making their own moral and spiritual choices. They do what they think will satisfy their physical desires, their desires for what pleases their eyes, their desires that feed their pride. Where the Great Apostasy is present, there is an embrace of whatever a person desires. There are no longer sinful choices, just good choices and bad choices. There are no longer sinful choices, just mistakes. There is no awareness that we are by nature sinners, that our own bodies use our appetites and desires to deceive us.
In my life, that was first seen in church in the reaction to divorce. Divorce was forbidden by God except for those whose partners refused to live in sexual faithfulness. Divorce was incredibly rare. It was shocking. Divorce carried with it disqualifications in spiritual life and service. But somehow, that changed, and divorce became just a sad but necessary choice. This has moved on to an embrace of homosexuality. It has gone on to redefine marriage. It has gone on to all but fully embrace LGBTQ lifestyles.
We see the massive Apostasy in statistics that are shocking and sobering. A research group called the Barna Group has surveyed those who call themselves evangelicals. The survey defines evangelicals by nine key beliefs. Yet studies show that of those who call themselves evangelicals, only 6% believe anymore in the essential truths. Among millennials it is worse, with only 2% believing the essential truths. Key in those truths is the Bible as the Word of God, Jesus the only atonement for sin, and salvation only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross. Many are like rudderless ships driven by the winds of culture into the storms of God’s rising judgment.
But as you read this, you must realize the truth of God is always personal. As Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 16:15, “But who do you say that I am?”. You must answer that question. The truth is about a personal relationship with God through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 15:5, “II am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Abiding in Jesus brings us back to where the deception began, understanding and embracing the Bible as the Word of God. Jesus said in John 15:7-11, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Abide in Jesus. Abide in His Word. Love Him. Keep His commandments. This leads to a fruitful life full of joy. May God lead and empower you in a dynamic relationship with Jesus. May you not be another statistic of the Great Apostasy.